Tacos Lionydas, a popular East Long Beach taco stand, shut down by health department

A popular taco stand, Tacos Lionydas, was shut down by the city’s health department and police Wednesday night, according to owner Lionel Perez, who normally sets up shop at Clark Avenue and Atherton Street in East Long Beach.

Perez said it was the second time he had been approached by the health department following a complaint.

The first time, Perez said he was handed a difficult-to-understand slip of paper that explained why he could not operate there. The second time, they threw away all of his meat and supplies including napkins, plates and utensils. The city also impounded his taco cart—something Long Beach officials have said is standard practice for street vendors who are twice caught without permits after they’re informed about the requirements.

“These are big losses, but you know, there are rules,” said Perez. He said that although the city has its due processes, he and his staff work hard to maintain the stand and buy everything they need.

Perez came to Los Angeles seven years ago from a small town in Oaxaca and this June he was able to open his very own taco stand, something he had been working toward for a long time.

“I am very satisfied and I am happy with how it’s gone so far,” he said. “The community and our customers have accepted us.”

Despite that broad acceptance, Tacos Lionydas has still been a target for harassment. On Aug. 2, two months after opening, Perez captured a video of a man haranguing him and his staff.

The man approached the stand and began shouting: “Let’s get the migra here. Let’s get ICE here!” The same man had previously pushed one of their grills to the ground. Two days later, the Long Beach Health Department showed up for an inspection and said they had received a complaint from a neighbor.

According to health department spokesperson Jennifer Rice Epstein, Perez and his staff were provided education on the permitting process along with food safety on Aug. 4.

On Sept. 28, she said, the health department received another complaint and found that the stand was in violation of many food and safety codes including operating without a permit, having unrefrigerated foods like beans and salsa, placing food and drink containers too close to bushes, having no hand washing facility and a lack of food safety knowledge.

“We want people to be able to make a living and successfully, safely operate food carts,” Epstein wrote in an email. “It is not only the law to require food-based business to follow food safety guidelines, but it also is important to remember that we do this in service of the community.”

Wednesday night, Epstein said the health department found a total of five unpermitted vendors across the city.

“We educated four of the five; the fifth vendor’s food and equipment were impounded because they’d been previously educated about the need for a health permit (on 8/4) and continued to operate,” she said, referring to Perez’ stand.

Perez said he is careful not to disturb the business of neighboring restaurants after he received a complaint from an owner who accused him of “stealing his customers.” He usually starts selling once the nearby business has closed but said that it might be the reason why he has been receiving complaints.

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 972 into law, a bill intended to decriminalize street vending by making it easier for the micro-entrepreneurs to secure permits and operate legally. The bill, which eases some of the health requirements on mobile food vendors, goes into effect next year, but according to Epstein, Perez would have still been in violation.

State Sen. Lena Gonzalez, D-Long Beach, who authored the bill, said that preventing these types of situations was the exact reason why she introduced SB 972.

“It’s because most of our street food vendors—especially if they’re Latino immigrants, or African immigrants, or Cambodian immigrants—unfortunately, don’t have the resources, you know. They don’t know exactly how to comply with local health regulations,” she said.

“They want to comply, but all they’re being met with is enforcement, no direction, lack of support.”

Despite the obstacles, Perez said he will be looking for another place to operate and is hopeful that his loyal customers will follow.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct the name of the taco stand from “Tacos Lionel” to “Tacos Lionydas.”

Newsom signs law to help legalize street vending by simplifying permit process

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Laura Anaya-Morga is a general assignment reporter for the Long Beach Post.
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